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Remembered Today:

End of WWI vs. Iraq

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With the announcement today US Marks Official End to Iraq War I find myself wondering about the similarities and differences between this termination and the one we all study so much in 1918. The official assertion of the end date for WWI is it coincides with the signing of the treaty in June of 1919. I've met staff at the National World War I museum in Kansas City Missouri who assert that the ending really ought to be with the return of the Allied troops occupying the Rhineland in 21 or 22. But generally 11/11/18 is accepted by the masses and tends to suffice for trivia questions.

The ending in Iraq seems like that earlier ending in terms of not having a tidy end date. No VI day specifically for this war. In fact the US didn't even wait to reach it's stated 12/31/11 pull out date but moved a bit quicker. Which was probably safer no matter what other motivations it had. There are also still an awful lot of Americans in Iraq and presumably other members of the coalition forces and so from that perspective it's hard to see this as a definitive 'ending.'

"In the embassy they still have 15,000 people and there is talk about 3,000 more [military] trainers.

Another similarity seems to be a 'somewhat' arbitrary stopping point that appears exceedingly messy. It's possible to look at the 1919 treaty and wonder how such a mess came to pass. Incidentally Paris 1919: Six Months that Changed the World by Margaret MacMillian, David Lloyd George's granddaughter on her mother's side, is an extraordinarily good read for this topic. Many cite the Versailles Treaty as making the next war a virtual certainty. I'm more then a bit suspicious that this 'ending' in Iraq is much the same. That the political situation is too tenuous for a way to move forward to exist. I've heard it said that the Sykes - Picot agreement has a lot to do with the situation today. I have to confess that I'm not particularly clear on how this may be true or not.

Am also pretty confident that the homecomings from this war will not be trumpeted or commemorated loudly like the two big ones in the 20th centuries, but will be more like the experiences of those 'forgotten' vets from that forgotten Korean War.

Certainly the scale of the two events are not comparable. But it seems the way wars are fought now is a direct result of the two great ones and perhaps not only because of the advent of the nuclear age.

Any thoughts? Do any of you see similarities?

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Greetings again.

Trying to list similarities may be non-productive and could also attract the referees' whistles.

However our Armistice with Turkey was what it was - a truce.

The Turkish Peace Treaty was signed on 10th August 1920.

During the two years between the two agreements the British Army was involved in very heavy fighting in Mesopotamia against a variety of enemies, and the troop strength was inadequate until reinforcements arrived from India.

See http://www.kaiserscross.com/304501/401601.html

and http://www.kaiserscross.com/304501/315743.html

Also in Anatolia the Allies were involved in serious fighting against Turkish Nationalists.

See http://www.london-gazette.co.uk/issues/32184/supplements/159

and http://www.kaiserscross.com/304501/385643.html

If you can obtain a copy, Lieutenant General Sir George Macmunn's Behind The Scenes In Many Wars offers good description of the Mesopotamian post-war situation.

On page 290 is a telling phrase:

And so all 1919, while Frocks (politicians in frock coats) deliberated and bargained, poor Iraq was heading for disaster, . . .


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This account by Captain Henry Spencer MC, Croix de Guerre was written in 1922. It makes for interesting readin:

“Before the war my peregrinations had led me to nearly every place worth seeing and a good many that were not.

“Teneriffe with its snow-capped mountain; Table Bay with its Devil’s Peak, Table Mountain, Lion’s Head and Capetown; Johannesburg with its gold mines and vile dust heaps; Kimberley and its diamonds; the wonderful Victoria Falls; L’ll of N’York with its overrated Broadway and sky signs; ‘Frisco and its underground opium dens; Galveston with its surf bathing and concrete bridge two miles long to the mainland; wicked New Orleans and impossible Coney Island. I had walked the big wide streets of Bombay and viewed the iniquities of its Grant Road, lived in Calcutta, and stood wonderladen at the beauty of the Taj Mahal. And the grandeur of the Himalayas. I had seen the teeming millions of half-starved natives in Delhi, Simla, Cawnpore, and the siege stricken Residency in Lucknow. Port Said with its Casino Hotel and its Arabtown, Cairo with Shepherds at its best and the Pyramids. To the wonderful harbours of Rio and Sydney, Melbourne with its wide healthy streets and Lorenzo Maques, where a million reis equal about a sovereign, and one plays poker dice with Portuguese for stimulant in Biddy’s Bar.

“I had been to Tasmania where on immediately concurs with the native in their climate, and to New Zealand, where one similarly joins with them in their opinion of Australians. I sojourned with the cannibals of the South Seas, been wrecked in a whale boat and chased ashore by sharks, seen the wonderful gardens and Tooth Temple at Kandy, tasted the delights of the G.O.H., the Galle Face and Mount Lavinia in Colombo – had stayed in the Peak Hotel at Hong Kong and sampanned the Yangste. I had been up the nerve-wrecking lift of the “Notre-Dame de la Gare” at Marseilles, failed miserably in an attempt to break the Bank at Nice – in fact, all the places where an Englishman with the wander bug in his grey matter gravitates.

“All these things I had seen and wondered at and yet always uppermost in my mind was that wonderful city of the East -–Baghdad. Always the thought of the magnificent temples with huge domes of Mozaic and gold and the Muezzin walking round the gallery of the Minaret calling the Mohammedan to prayer – delicately carved Minarets with golden cupolas pointing like an ever-accusing finger into an azure sky – cloudless and serene. There would be clean wide streets with gorgeous houses having marble paved courts inlaid with Mozaic of many colours, golden fountains on marble pedestals wonderfully carved by the old wonder workers of the East, and flowery creepers climbing over horseshoe arched balconies where beautiful members of a great harem would take a “dekko” at the passing unbelievers. Wonderfully apparrelled merchant princes with gaily-bedecked turbans and spotlessly clean flowing robes would discuss their affairs over delicious coffee in the bazaars, lazily puffing clouds of scented smoke from his hookah or hubble bubble. Beautiful maidens exuding the sweet scents of Arabia -–direct descendants of the wandering tribes who sat by the waters of Babylon and wept – would promenade the wide streets and Tigris front clad in beautious rainment made familiar to us in pictures of the East. Oh, yes, one day I would see this great city of Kaliphs where Haroun al Rachid reigned supreme, and after that – the chicken run and the little white house in the lane.

“And so it came to pass. When a certain egoist severed the Damoclean thread in 1914 – a few months in an O.T.C., and I found myself at Basra within measurable distance of the City of my Dreams. Let us gloss over the next four years – years of sand and sun, mosquitoes and sandflies, never-ending marches over feet of mud or dust with a temperature blowing the bottoms out of the thermometers, gloriously unsuccessful attempts to drive Johnny Turk out of impregnable positions, mud and malaria, disease and dust and finally the brighter days when he who now lies in the cemetery outside the city led us victoriously through the North Gate [Lieutenant General Sir Stanley Maude who died of cholera on 18th November 1917, allegedly after drinking untreated milk].

“Thus passed four years, and once more I found myself at Basra on board for Baghdad. A small two-decker, oil-driven boat, 200 feet long and about 25 feet beam, with huge paddles on either side drawing about four feet of water. ‘Mid-ship is a small dining room with four small cabins on either side, and just enough promenade room to get into step before you ‘bout turn. The rest of the deck space is taken over by Arabs and their kindred tribes, huddled together like sheep, eating, drinking, and sleeping, with an occasional rough-house. Approprobation by an Arab is a fine art, and subsequent experiences of him taught me he could filch the clothes off your bed without waking you.

“Slowly we pass up the Tigris, winding up its snake-like way through the arid plains and desert, varying in width from twelve yards to a thousand, up past the Garden of Eden, Ezra’s tomb, Amara, Kut, Ctesphion, and after three days – Baghdad. The noisy paddles cease to churn the muddy river into a yellow foam and I look in vain for anything approaching a landing stage. However, selecting half a dozen of the least evil-looking ruffians like baseballs fans they attach themselves to my kit, and I clamber over a dozen mahailas and bellums, each step threatening to deposit me in the Tigris, and scramble up a precipitous bank to the shore.

“Baghdad! This? Baghdad? Can this be the place that had overshadowed all the beauty spots of the world? Why, there’s only one street, an ugly depressing cart road with no surface or side-walks and having subsidences into which ramshackle Arab vehicle designated an arabana nearly disappears. The Huns left it in a hurry and all they did in an attempt to widen it was to pull down all the house front, leaving the gaping interiors and thousands of tons of debris. And yet peering out from the demolitions were exquisite samples of brickwork in the shape of carved dome ceilings and hanging cupolas. New Street, about a mile and a half long, runs from the mythical South Gate to the North Gate – a real fortified gate – through which all the hordes from Northern Mesopotamia and Persia must pass into the City.

“But where are the wonderful temples, the rich merchants, the gorgeous houses, the beatious Arab maidens, the splendid bazaars, the golden fountains, the latticed porticos? What an awakening!! Certainly, there are a few unarchitectural edifices with domes covered with cheap Minton tiles – and pigeons; a few sickly looking Minarets which seem to have the greatest difficulty in keeping their perpens. Every step shatters one more illusion.

“Branching off New Street on either side are innumerable alley ways. Filthy stinking passes are seldom more than six feet wide with the garbage of filth of centuries lying everywhere. Rank evil-smelling puddles of stagnant water providing haunts of clouds of sandflies and mosquitoes and a breeding ground for houseflies in unbelievable numbers. Projecting bay windows above, nearly touching the ones opposite, hide out the daylight and fresh air. Hundreds of children, naked and filthy with the disease of twenty generations indelibly marked on their poor thin faces – superating sores on their eyes and lips – running after you with the eternal cry of “Backsheesh, Sahib, Backsheesh.” Open one of the great carved doors with wonderful brass knockers – doors and furniture worth a fortune to a collector. Filth everywhere. Sanitary accommodation – if any – of the vaguest. Dogs, diseased and emaciated, hiding behind heaps of fetid rubbish. Pass up the narrow winding steps to the balcony. Dirt and filth everywhere, and amidst it all the owner and his family indolently sipping tea or one of the multi-coloured syrup their hearts delight in.

“I looked in vain for the merchant Prince in his flowing robes. What I did see was a jaded lot of old ruffians with dark semetic features and beady eyes, sipping tea out of a small glass, yelling and screaming at the top of their voices and gesticulating to beat the band over the sale of ten rupees worth of rubbish. But the bazaars themselves were the great disappointment. I had imagined a wide well-paved entrance and common way with domed roof, large and well lighted stores on either side and an occasional café. Stores stocked with all the treasures of the East with ubiquitous sons of the Prophet to display them and tempt you, with many references to his father’s beard, to buy. The cafes would be gaily decorated with Moorish arched alcoves and with priceless curtains, marble tables filled with fruits and fragrant spices. Yashmaked Arab bints would flit around in their funny little sandals and deliver coffee and syrups; the gentle hum of a hundred cosmopolitan tongues would mingle with rich scented smoke from the hubble-bubble, and all would be a delight to the Western eye and ear.

“Not a bit of it. One enters a narrow alley, usually over the boot tops in mud, about eight feet wide and covered in at infrequent intervals with poles and rotting chittai. The shops are little cubby holes about six feet square and less in height and stocked with a lot of rubbish which would bring discredit on a C3 travelling tinker. The banker sits in a dark little dug-out, with a cheap safe ostentatiously displayed, chinking his dozen or so rupees from hand to hand to attract attention. The hard and soft, large and smallware merchant is usually found in a recumbent position, too lazy to offer any of his treasures for sale, their indolence only varying in a slight degree when an easily rooked B.O. [british officer] or B.O.R. [british other rank] saunters along to look at some imitation amber or faked carpet.

“The only cafes that came within my vision were small holes in a wall with a coke fire over which disreputable Arabs fried some evil-looking chopped meat twirled around an iron skewer. The floor was of dried mud. The fixtures comprise a few rough forms and the tables are boards roughly nailed together and briefly exercising the fact that Tate’s and Colman’s had been dispatching their specialities out East. Sitting round were ruffians who would have murdered a bishop for a couple of rupees. The stench from the mud floor and fried meats was nauseating. Close by is the entrance to the Arab theatre. One enters through a haze of cheap tobacco smoke and dimly visible beyond the rough tables and forms were seated similar disreputables to the ones in the café, one discerns a rough stage where an overdressed female chants in semitones and goes through movements which would meet with little approval here. On the stage are half a dozen musicians, villainous-looking individuals who supply the vocal and instrumental effects. A few Europeans may often be seen enjoying the delectable entertainment from a roughly constructed balcony which runs down each side and one end.

Clock Tower Barracks“Through the bazaar and one comes to the Clock Tower Barracks, where Johnny Turk imprisoned the British residents who were caught in the maelstrom of 1914, but now used as offices by the Civil Administration. Outside here congregate day by day the professional beggars. All sorts, sizes and conditions, deformed, diseased, dusky degeneracy beseech Allan and the Sahib to contribute to their filthy existence.

“Cross New Street and enter another portion of this great City. The scenes are indescribable. Dark, loathsome alleyways about four feet wide winding in and out, and seated at every doorway crowds of half-dressed Arab women smothered in bangles, charms, and trinkets, laughing, smoking, and drinking, waiting for their prey. I believe municipal supervision of a kind is in vogue but Port Said and New Orleans are clean, healthy towns compared to this.

“And this is Baghdad! This is Iraq – Mesopotamia – call it what you will, the country which is costing us million of pounds. Where hundreds of expensive bungalows for Civil Servants are being built, where fabulous sums are being spent on offices for the Civil Administration, where £50,000 were spent on a house for the High Commissioner, where scores of highly paid civil servants are wasting time and money. This is the country where tens of thousands of brave lads suffered tortures as yet untold, and when they made the great sacrifice often failed to find a decent resting place. Good-bye Baghdad! Farewell my illusions!”

‘Hucknall Dispatch’, 24th August 1922.

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I accept that 11th November 1918 was an armistce and in theory war could resume at any moment. Yet this did not seem likely. Germany's allies had collapsed, German forces were driven back and mutinies were taking place, the Kaiser had fled to The Netherlands. I am really not sure in what circumstances Germany would have been able to resume hostilities again up to July 1919..

Yes it is important to realise that war carried on in parts of Europe after the Armistace, Ireland, Russia, and Hungary immediately spring to mind. Then came conflict in Greece and Turkey.

I have found from researching the Great War I have become interested in how Britain's military involvement in Mesoptamia/Iraq obviously predates recent 'Gulf Wars',but I am not sure how to compare 'End of WW1 vs. Iraq'

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Here are some similarities, differences and some stat's:

The time frame for either war was not too dissimilar. WW1 lasted from 1914 to 1918, however the occupation continued until 1921-22. The war in Iraq and the occupation lasted eight and a half years. (Count the years on your fingers)

4807 Coalition service members lost their lives during Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation New Dawn. Obviously the fatality numbers of the Great War were significantly larger. I remember hearing this, and I can't find the source, so can not confirm it; during the years of 1945 - 1955 the western Allied occupation forces in Germany suffered an average of 40 combat deaths per year. That's 40 fatalities per year due to hostile fire alone, not illness, accident or other event, for the ten years after the war had finished.

I guess the media also played a significant hand during both wars. They were kept from reporting disasters and the casualty figures from 1 July 1916 were kept from the public until after the war. During the war in Iraq all they reported were the casualties and disasters. I suppose the media stopped the public turning on the Great War, however, some 90 years on they were responsible for the Coalition nearly losing the war, they gave the insurgency a reason to fight.

As for the War in Iraq:

3718 of those fatalities were combat related,

117 were female,

The worst months for the Coalition were April and November 2004 - the two assaults on Fallujah,

The worst day was 26 January 2005 when six soldiers were killed in combat and another 31 died when their Super Stallion went down in a sand storm.

I never stepped foot in Iraq, however, I saw and spoke to a lot of them as I was moving to and from Afghanistan in 07 and 08. Like the veterans from the Great War, who are now all gone, I hold this new generation in the same high esteem.

Cheers Andy.

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The Armistice with Turkey was signed at Moudros on 30 October 1918.

Previously on 29 September 1918 an Armistice had been signed at Thessalonika with Bulgaria.

Italy signed an Armistice with Austria-Hungary in the Villa Giusti on 3rd November 1918.

The Armistice between the Allies and Germany was signed on 11th November 1918.


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Jim's excellent excerpt finishes with

And this is Baghdad! This is Iraq – Mesopotamia – call it what you will, the country which is costing us million of pounds.
Which of course could be a statement from today if one simply changed the count from millions to billions.

I wonder if any of the interventions the West have embarked on as a result of The Great War have been 'worth it.' It's hard to suss out the results of the west's addiction to cheap oil. We'll all keep watching I suppose.

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